Aomori is famous for the amount of snow it gets during the winter months, which attracts ski enthusiasts from all corners of the world. But don’t worry if skiing isn’t your cup of tea; Aomori has plenty of other winter events to offer!
Recently, we went to check out two of Aomori’s winter events; the Winter Festival and the Motsuke Festival, which fall on the same weekend.
The Winter Festival had something for everyone: from horseback rides to local and seasonal delicacies, and much more, in and around Aomori’s ASPAM building. You could touch the live octopuses (if you were so inclined), eat the famous ‘stick-bread’, listen to the live music, and watch the craftsmen at work making everything from Japanese washi paper to a giant wooden bear carving. We tried our hand at controlling one of the large machines responsible for clearing Aomori’s roads of snow.
There was also a large snow bank, with people lining up to slide down on the rubber rings provided. Of course I had to give it a go, even though I was easily the oldest person to try it. I never saw such snow growing up, and I wanted to see what I had been missing! Sliding down the slope was exhilarating – I felt like it was over too soon. Perhaps I should try sledding in the nearby Hakkoda Mountains.
My personal favourite activity was the traditional Aomori kite-flying. The instructor was really nice and helpful, which was good because I had no idea what I was doing. Once we got the kite up in the air, it was curiously relaxing to watch its lazy wandering through the air – until it collided with someone else’s kite and crashed to the ground! Not to worry, though, we soon got them back up.
After that we went home for a few hours to warm up, and then it was out again for the Motsuke Festival in the evening! As the crowds gathered around the stage, located just around the corner from Aomori Station, the presenter kept us entertained until it was time for the festival to begin. The sound of music came floating through the air, and soon a small version of the floats used in Aomori’s famous Nebuta Festival could be seen over the heads of the crowd. But what was most surprising was the clothing of the people carrying the float – apart from their shoes, all they were wearing was a sort of belt, such as a sumo might wear! I was well wrapped-up with a scarf, hat, and gloves, and was still feeling the cold on my nose; I couldn’t imagine how they must have felt!
There were several teams of men dressed in this fashion, and there proceeded to be a tug-of-war tournament in the snow, before the illuminated Aomori Bay Bridge. During the matches the crowd chanted “motsuke, motsuke”. In Aomori’s Tsugaru dialect, ‘motsuke’ can mean a show-off or attention-seeker, or a playful way to call someone an idiot or a crazy person (if you’re reading this in Ireland, it’s about the same as ‘eejit’!). I prefer the second meaning; an apt description for someone who participates in tug-of-war in the snow, wearing very little clothing.
Cheering them on was great fun, and each team had a gimmick; a man with a papier-maché lion’s head, a giant cardboard sword, a team member dressed in a Mario costume, and more. The winning team was bestowed with sixty kilograms of rice, the much-coveted champion’s belt, and of course the honour of setting off the evening’s firework display.
The fireworks were a sight to behold. With the winning team, the small Nebuta float, and the Bay Bridge in the foreground, they lit up the sky to the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s of the crowd.